American Horror Story: Red Tide Episode 1 “Cape Fear”

It’s a new season for American Horror Story! Our beloved campy horror anthology series returns with another twist; the double feature! Double features appeared during the Great Depression as a way to boost ticket sales. The premise is simple: rather than show a single film to an audience you show two. Two full length features. As this applies to AHS Season 10, we get two distinct parts. While it’s unclear whether or not there will be any overlap (traditional double features are completely separate films) between the parts, we do know that some of the same cast will be coming back to different roles in Part 2. So, let’s crack into Episode 1, “Cape Fear”!

The episode begins with desolate and lonely shots of sand dunes and the ocean. The lighting is cold and flat. We’re given that this is not a beach goers paradise or even a cozy haven to escape to during the off season. A dark SUV drives down an empty road and we are introduced to our main characters. A family. White and upper middle-class by the look of the car and the clothes. In fact, it might as well be a nuclear family stereotype. We have the dashing husband, the blonde (and pregnant) wife and young daughter. The family is escaping life in the city -presumably NYC or possibly Boston – to find a quiet place for the husband Harry Gardner (played by Finn Wittrock) to find inspiration. Harry is a screenwriter and is under pressure to turn out a script to end all scripts. Harry’s wife, Doris Gardner (played by the amazing Lily Rabe), while unsure of the move, is supportive and is hoping that the move will help her interior decorating business get off the ground. Their daughter, Alma, has a disturbing habit of counting the number of roadkill that the car passes.

We find out that the family is temporarily moving to Provincetown, MA and it’s the winter months. Like most New England beach towns, the winter is the off season and we are again shown empty streets and boarded up houses; their owners having flocked to warmer climates in the south. As the family moves into their P-town house, we are led to believe that this house, like Murder House, Hotel and to a degree, Roanoke, is its own character. Time will tell if that pans out. But what we do see very quickly is that not all of the residents are as normal as they appear. There’s a distinctive “haves” and “have nots”. Throughout the episode, ideas on success, addiction and sacrifice are explored. There’s also something with red lights which I am interested to see more of.

As you would expect from AHS, we have fantastic acting. Aside from Finn Wittrock and Lily Rabe portraying a convincing husband and wife who are struggling to find success and recognition, we have some stellar performances. Sarah Paulson as the addict Karen has a great intro. I also want to call out the fantastic makeup done on her. I didn’t even recognize her at first. Evan Peters as the hot playwright Austin Sommers who also happens to have a great signing voice. Frances Conroy delivers another subtle but powerful performance as Sarah Cunningham, a writer with a great pseudonym. We even get great, if brief appearances by fellow AHS veterans Leslie Grossman and Adina Porter.

Episode 1 delivers a solid performance and setup for Part 1 of season 10.

A Journey Through Joshua Tree National Park

Hi everyone! I hope you are all doing what you can to stay healthy and happy! In these times that’s all we can really hope for, ya know?! For me, getting outdoors and away from my usual grind helps me to recenter and wind down from the grind. And as luck would have it, I was able to really get away by going to Palm Springs with my partner. I’ve been blessed enough to make this my third visit to Palm Springs. I happen to love it there. The city has thus great mid-century modern vibe in both the architecture and the decor. The surrounding desert landscape is absolutely gorgeous. And the restaurants there are world class.

Well the other thing that Palm Springs has an abundance of is outdoor activities. Of course there’s golf – the place is the self-titled “Golf Capital of the World” – but there’s also ample hiking and camping which is much more my pace. As I was researching things to do while my partner was at work I quickly noticed that Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) was located practically next door to Palm Springs. So I told myself that I would go and check it out. And all I can say is – wow!

This might look desolate but the topography and plant life weave a fantastic tapestry.

First off, the park is LARGE. It’s slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island which is fantastically crazy to think about. An entire park devoted to protecting natural beauty that’s larger than a state. Granted, Rhode Island is teeny compared to most of the states but it’s still impressive nonetheless. It also covers several thousand feet in elevation which is cool because it allows you to see the change in the ecosystems that have evolved there.

JTNP can be broadly broken down into three different areas. These areas are based on the different desert ecosystems that converge within the park’s boundaries. The parks south and east sides are lower, hotter and drier and is part of the Colorado Desert. The north and west portions of the park are higher in elevation, slightly cooler and wetter and are part of the Mojave Desert. The third area is the transition zone between the two deserts where a unique ecosystem that blends both deserts is located.

I entered JTNP from the south off of Interstate 10. The drive from Palm Springs took about 45 minutes. Signs to the park were easy and there is only one road that enters the park from the south: Cottonwood Springs Road. Note: There is no formal sign indicating that you’ve entered JTNP from the south. But you’ll know you’ve entered the park from signs along the road. There is a ranger station at Cottonwood Springs about three miles past the park border where you can get water and pay the entry fee. There’s also a great little museum at the ranger station and large billboards showing what’s open and providing you with helpful, but general information about the current status of the park.

If you make it to the southern area of the park then you should definitely the Cottonwood Spring Oasis which is about a 5 minute drive from the Cottonwood Springs ranger station. Like many of the oases in and around the park, this formed from geologic cracking in the Serbs surface. While the topography is not the most stunning, it is cool to see more green against the austere browns and tans of the desert. The oasis area also sports a small nature trail and more challenging hikes into the park’s wilderness areas.

The Cottonwood Springs Oasis provides a nice splash of vibrant green in the desert.

Continuing back through the heart of the park is easy as it’s the only road (the road name changes from Cottonwood Springs to Pinto Basin but since there are no road name signs it doesn’t matter!) to in the southern part of JTNP. The road slowly slopes down into various washes and lowlands of the Colorado Desert. This part of the park is vast and you appreciate just how large the park is. It’s even more humbling when you realize that you’re only in the middle of the park. In the summer and months, monsoonal moisture from the southwest can generate thunderstorms which can cause flash flooding. Seeing the scope of the washes and how the road can flood is humbling.

At the bottom of the basin the road begins to curve towards the west and approaches a steady rise towards the high desert – the Mojave. But, there are three things worth seeing and enjoying before you head up to the high country in the park.

  1. Make sure to take pictures and just admire Mt. Pinto. It’s pretty noticeable by its prominence. You can also hike to the top of the mountain but you need to be an experienced backpacker as the trail is not marked.
  2. Take pictures and get up close to the Ocotillo Tree. It’s a deciduous tree that loses its leaves several times a year and then blooms and regrows leaves when the rains come.
  3. Stop by the Chola Cactus Garden. These cacti are fantastic with great color and form. But unlike the Ocotillo, you do not want to get close to these guys!

Once you’ve had your fill of the lower Colorado Desert you can begin the journey up the rise to the Mojave Desert in the desert high country. You’ll know that you’ve reached the Mojave by the fact that the general area becomes greener and the temperature drops by a few degrees. This part of JTNP is less open and expansive being replaced by narrower valleys and more fantastic rock formations. The road splits at a T-junction a few miles after entering the Mojave Desert section of the park. If you have the time, go right first and you’ll find the road slowly sloping down and eventually leaving one of the park’s northern exits. Trust me, you’ll want to do that because there’s a hidden gem within JTNP that you can only access from outside the main visitor entrances: Indian Cove.

Mojave Desert portion of JTNP. A lot more flora and fauna variety.

Indian Cove is small, sheltered part of JTNP along the park’s north border. While it can be accessed via hiking trail from the Hidden Valley campsite within the park, the easiest way to get to it (especially in the hot summer months) is to drive out of JTNP and go along California State Highway 62 until you reach Indian Cove Rd. Be aware though: the signs for Indian Cove Rd are hard to spot on the highway and the road comes up fast. As you head up the road, you’ll be greeted by some absolutely fantastic rock formations rising up like a natural damn. The road meanders into this wonderland of stone to a variety of campgrounds.

Upon leaving Indian Cove, you can either continue out of the park or return through one of the two north entrances. I chose to retrace my steps so that I could cover ever mile of road within JTNP. Once you reach the T-junction from earlier, continue straight ahead and you’ll soon be surrounded by the park’s namesake, the Joshua Trees. Fun fact: Joshua Trees are not actually trees. They are actually a type of Yucca which is related to the asparagus! The more you know, right? The Joshua Tree provides fantastic and interesting shapes to photograph and like the plants in the low desert, bring a welcome splash of green life to the barren and rocky landscape.

Before long you’ll pass by the famous Skull Rock which does indeed look like a skull. You can luckily see it from the road which is what I did as it was literally crawling with people; I think like 10 or 12. All over the rock face. Being in a snarky mood I unfortunately didn’t even take a picture so you’ll have to use your imagination or just google search “Skull Rock – Joshua Tree”. As you continue west, the Joshua Trees become more dense and while there aren’t enough to call it a forest, it is impressive to see this line of green.

At another fork in the road you’ll have the option to turn right and drive up to Keys View. Definitely. Do. It. The road is somewhat narrower than the rest of the roads in the park but you get even more beautiful views of the Joshua Trees and you are treated to a truly spectacular sight once you reach the top of the road. The views from Keys View are spectacular. Splayed in front of you like your own private domain is Coachella Valley. On a clear day, you can easily see Mt San Jacinto towering over Palm Springs, the desert cities and to the far left the Salton Sea. I was lucky enough to see all of on the day I was there. Due to the vista point’s elevation, the temperature was a good 7 degrees cooler and a stiff breeze coming up from Coachella Valley helped make it feel like a nice respite from the hotter parts of the park.

As I descended back into the park I was greeted with another vista that you don’t see as you are driving up to Keys Point. Most people don’t take the time on the way down to stop and admire the view which is a shame. Perhaps they’re too overwhelmed with the views that they saw? Or perhaps folks are tired from a long day of beautiful landscapes and scenery? Regardless, I enjoyed the view while countless cars whizzed by on the road to my left.

View from the road going down from Keys Point; a great view to be sure!

Joshua Tree is a mesmerizing place and I cannot recommend it enough. I went in the height of the summer season and it was hot for sure. But it’s definitely doable from the comfort of an air conditioned car. I hope to get back out there when the weather cools off so that I can spend more time hiking and exploring.

San Jose Museum of Art and Returning to Normal

Hi everyone! I hope you are all doing well.

One of the things that my partner and I love doing is going to museums. In fact, our second date was at a museum in London. Museums are fantastic and fascinating institutions – particularly for those who love to learn or be stimulated. Whether by the collection, exhibition, or even the architecture, museums are fun on the visual senses. I’ve tried a couple of online exhibitions and have donated to a couple of museums out of respect for their struggles during COVID. But, in all honesty, nothing compares to physically going. So I was thrilled when we made a date and went to the San Jose Museum of Art in Downtown San Jose.

Sitting right off Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park in the heart of the city, the San Jose Museum of Art is a relatively young museum. It was founded in 1969 by a couple who wound up not only starting SJMA, but saving the historic building located on the site. A more modern wing was added to the building in the early 1990s. San Jose – and the surrounding Santa Clara Valley went through wave after wave of urban sprawl in the mid to late twentieth century and a lot of historic aspects to life before the post-war migration have been lost. So it’s nice to see a surviving example of architecture from the time before.

Guess which side the original museum started on!

The museum is comprised of three floors – the ground floor houses two galleries – one of which was closed for an upcoming installation, the museum shop and the museum cafe. The upper floor contains two more galleries – again, one of which was closed for installation. And bottom floor contains a small gallery and some interactive exhibits geared towards children. The interactive exhibits are currently unaccessible as of this post due to COVID.

I am more of a science and history buff when it comes to museums. My partner is much more into art museums. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy looking at art. But I find it so subjective that at times I feel like I am missing something. There were some fantastic pieces which I will call out below that caught my eye.

Finally, there was a great sculpture in the small sculpture garden that is located directly across from the main entrance to the museum. The piece that was on display is titled Karma by Do Ho Suh. It’s made from bronze and copper plated steel. It was fabulous for two reasons. 1. It gives me some H.R. Giger vibes and I love me some surrealist art a la Alien. 2. I see the very top of the sculpture from the road when I do my daily walks through downtown. I thought that it was a sculpture of dinosaur tail or something!

The museum can be done in anywhere between an hour or two so it’s quite manageable. And, if you get membership at SJMA you also get free access to SFMOMA up in San Francisco so it’s a great bargain!

San Jose Museum of Art
110 S Market Street, San Jose, CA 95113

Museum Hours
Fri–Sun: 11am–5pm*
First Fridays of the month:
11am–8pm or later**

Review: Picchetti Winery 2017 Vino di Vicino

Hello Everyone! It’s time to review another bottle of wine and like the last review, it’s from Picchetti. I’m a member of their wine club and have a backlog of wines from previous releases. So it’ll be Picchetti for a few more weeks. I’ve always had a soft spot for Picchetti for a couple of reasons. The first is that they were close to where I grew up in the SF Bay Area so it was easy to get to. The second is that they don’t sell their wines outside of the winery and their online store. This makes the wines fun to talk about and share with folks who are not local or knowledgable about small wineries.

Today’s wine is the 2017 Vino di Vicino. The first thing I wanted to know was what the term Vino di Vicino meant. The language is Italian and it translates to “wine of the neighborhood”. Some quick checking online reveals that the term is not commonly used. I found a couple of references to wine stores in the US and Italy that use the phrase in their name. But I found no other wine with the phrase on the label. This gives the wine a nice, casual feel while not casual in price!

My immediate impressions of the wine are positive and it is an improvement over the 2019 Cinsault in the last review. However, I will update this review after I have allowed the wine to settle for a few days and have been able to pair it.

Overall Rating: 11/15

Here are the specifics.

NameVino di Vicino
ProducerPicchetti Winery
Vintage 2017
VarietyRed blend composed mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon
OriginSanta Cruz Mountains
Price (single bottle, non-club)46.95 USD
ABV14.0%

Appearance

BOTTLE: Once again, the bottle would get top marks if I included that in the score. Like all their other wines, this bottle has an elegant and understated appearance which I find sophisticated and attractive.

WINE: The wine is a deep red which makes sense given that it is primarily composed of Cabernet which is a pretty dark grape. Unlike the Cinsault from the last review, this wine appears more “mature” but I base that purely on the deepness of the color and on no other scientific observation. There were barely any wine legs that formed when the wine was angled against the glass.

Rating: 4/5

Aroma

I was immediately reminded of spice and leather when fully inhaling the aroma and letting it linger. There was also a hint of black pepper and dried apricots when inhaled from a slight distance from the glass while swirling the wine. I enjoyed the aroma and when I did the full inhale I was immediately reminded of the smell of a leather shoe – before it was worn!

Rating: 4/5

Taste

You can definitely “taste” the spice. The notes of pepper from the aroma were accompanied by notes of fennel as well. The slightly sweet taste from the apricot was a pleasant experience particularly when swallowing the wine immediately and letting the after taste linger. Several additional sips helped to convey a fatty flavor as well though this was probably helped by the coating of the tannins in my mouth by that point.

Rating: 3/5

UPDATE! 2019 Cinsault by Picchetti

Hi there! Here is a quick update on the 2019 Picchetti Cinsault that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. The wine mellowed considerably after letting it sit. I also pared the wine with a pork belly dinner which was absolutely superb. The flavor of the cherry in the wine complimented the pork belly nicely and gave an overall sweetness to the meal without overpowering. The wine on its own is still not my favorite to drink as is, but, when pared, it really shines.

Updated Review Score: 12/15

You can read my original review here!

Wine Review! Picchetti Winery 2019 Cinsault

Hi Everyone – I’ve decided that I should live up to the title of my blog and talk a little bit about wine. I’m in the process of developing my palate so that means that future reviews will only get better.

Today, I’ll be trying the 2019 Cinsault (pronounced “sin-so”), one of the two wines that Picchetti Winery released for their Summer 2021 Wine Club Release. Cinsault is primarily used to blend with other red varieties. In South Africa, Cinsault is frequently blended with Pinotage. It is also commonly blended with Grenache.   

Upon doing some research, the vineyard is located in Lodi, California. As a native Californian I was only aware of Lodi as a “drive-thru” city between my home in San Jose and my parent’s home in the Sacramento area. However, the more I have been researching wine in California, the more I read about Lodi. Perhaps I can do a quick pitstop on my way to Sacramento next time!

I’ve enjoyed Picchetti Winery a lot over the years. It’s nestled in the foothills over Cupertino, California – where I grew up. The actual property is beautiful and the tasting room is enjoyable and is a great place to host an event. And I like their wines and their staff. But this particular wine misses the mark for me. It’s apparent to me why the wine is typically blended with other reds. Nothing stands out for me. I plan to pair this wine with pork belly throughout the week. And will be happy to update this review based on its pairing.

Overall Score: 10/15

Below are the specifics (including images) and how my score adds up.

NameCinsault
ProducerPicchetti Winery
Vintage2019
VarietyCinsault
OriginBechtholdt Vineyard, Mokelumne, Lodi, CA
Price (single bottle, non-club)42.95 USD
ABV13.8%

Appearance

BOTTLE: The bottles at Picchetti are beautiful. The labels are understated and tasteful, using gold script that appears handwritten. I believe that the first bottle (prototype?) is actually handwritten. I don’t know if the rest are then printed or actually handwritten. The vineyard produces small batches so I could see someone’s full-time job being that! I don’t rate wine labels but this one is a favorite of mine for its simplicity and elegance.

Beautiful elegant label. Really like the Picchetti livery.

WINE: The wine itself is bright red. The light diffuses evenly in direct sunlight with a translucent red halo around the rim. The wine’s viscosity appears somewhat low as no define “wine legs” appeared though it still took several seconds for the alcohol to evaporate on the glass. The color is attractive in both neutral light and direct sunlight when out of the bottle.

Rating: 5/5

The wine has a pleasant red color in direct and indirect light.

Aroma:

The wine smells of cherry fruit to me. As I let the wine settle the cherry smell permeated even more. When the wine first came out of the bottle I could smell a hint of citrus. The aroma is fine but not distinct to me.

Rating: 3/5

Taste:

The wine is sweet immediately on the tongue. The taste of cherry is present and also orange. Picchetti winery describes it as “blood orange”. The taste does not linger long after the initial taste. The wine is somewhat acidic and I could feel it on my tongue and the back of my mouth. The overall bouquet is one of spiciness. Cardinal tastes for me are sweet, sour and a slightly bitter finish.

Rating: 2/5

The Importance of Permission

Hi Everyone! I hope you are all staying safe and healthy during these continued painful times. I am immensely thankful that I and my loved ones have managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic. While things might be looking up for the US and Europe, other parts of the world, like India, are continuing to suffer immensely from the COVID-19 pandemic. This thought weighs on me as I talk about my own journey below.

I have been fully vaccinated. My partner is in between his vaccinations. My family are all fully vaccinated. Typing these words and reading these words give me an immense sigh of relief and they do give me hope for the future. Regardless of how the rest of the world is faring, it’s hard to not feel optimistic at times with this news. I know that my family will be safe from this virus – and I know that I too will be as well. And now, things go back to normal, right? I can go outside without a mask on. I can dine both indoors and outdoors and not worry. I can hop on a plane and travel to Europe now. So we just carry on and look forward.

That would be the easy thing to do. That’s what I would normally do. I made it through a bad time and now it’s better. It didn’t leave a lasting impact on me. I could not be more wrong.

I was traumatized by what I went through since the pandemic started. I will never forget where I was when shelter-in-place was ordered for the Bay Area (getting gas in my car with the radio on). I will never forget the first time I went into the grocery store and saw all the masks, social distancing, cleaning and low supplies on the shelves. I’ll never forget seeing the freeways go from bumper-to-bumper traffic to empty. Or the silence outside my window as the planes that flew into San Jose Airport were grounded. But I will also never forget the endless hours I spent in my apartment, locked away from the world. Watching the world unravel through the pandemic and civil unrest plus an election and insurrection that I would just as soon forget if I could. I felt trapped. I felt suffocated. Terrified. Alone. Exhausted.

On top of all that, I still had a job to do. And while it was cathartic to work with amazing and kind people virtually, I had never felt more alone. I live with my partner and we have spent some amazing time together. But I felt like I was in a void. My pain and depression acting as a shell, preventing me from moving forward. And while I talked about it with my therapist, I was still preventing myself from really feeling it – and more importantly acknowledging it. But then, over time, things started to change. But the change wasn’t some new internet hack or way of thinking that magically manifested itself via Instagram. It was a slow evolution. I realized that I had given myself permission to not be ok and I had given myself permission to make myself better.

When I did this, it opened me up to a slow realization that I am worth it. My needs and wants are critical to my happiness. Dreams to be a writer or be a pilot were no longer something for me to scoff at. They are in my grasp. The permission for me to quit my job and put my career “on hold” while I recover and discover what comes next. These are all things that I don’t think I would have done if the pandemic hadn’t thrown a proverbial wrench into all of our lives. And through it, the trauma and the pain, I have a more authentic view of who I am and who I want to be.

Review of The Enigma Cube

I was up late one night randomly sifting through the Kindle Store on the lookout for my next read. After nearly 30 minutes of electronic rabbit holes I had given up finding something to read. I had seen adverts for The Enigma Cube on my Kindle’s off screen. I normally do not select ebooks based on the ads that Amazon sent me but this time I did it on a whim. What transpired as a fun and fast paced sci-fi action thriller.

Initially set in the near future, the reader is introduced to the main protagonists. They’re enjoyable enough if somewhat idealistic in both thoughts and prose. We deal with an enhanced soldier and a baseline human female and the two do have chemistry which makes for enjoyable reading. It also helps that there are a variety of witty responses and sarcastic comebacks thrown in with some sci-fi references that will make any true nerd in the 21st century happy. What struck me as interesting was the way that the author dealt with the two timelines within the novel. The initial timeline takes place in the USA in the mid 2020s. During this time, the American government has discovered the “Enigma Cube”. It’s actually not called this in the novel but it’s better than just saying “cube”. We discover that this cube has the power to control space and eventually, time. The Chinese, of course, know about this cube as well through some techno wizardry and of course want it.

Approximately midway through the novel the main characters are transported back to the world in the midst of WW2. Through scenes taking place in both Berlin and Canada we come to learn of how the “Enigma Cube” was discovered and how it almost fell into the hands of Nazi Germany. And this is where the timelines play a fun tug of war with the reader. While time travel is involved, there is a plot twist that was enjoyable enough to tie the two timelines together in a way that would have made for a satisfying closure without needing to explore the WW2 timeline in greater detail. But, we get that anyway which is great. There’s even a moral conundrum which makes one really think about whether or not changing the past would make the future better.

The book ends with some nice emotional prose about family and finding meaning and connection in life which helps to humanize the characters. All in all this was a fun book and one that I would recommend.

The Long Winter Trilogy Review

The Long Winter trilogy penned by A.G. Riddle is an intriguing and engrossing story that touches on all the biggies in Science Fiction. There is action and adventure as well as romance while set against the backdrop of the impending demise of the human species. So, apropos for a COVID world. The pacing in each novel is good. There are good action scenes which wrap up at just the right moment to keep the adrenaline flowing. There are great scenes of mystery and wonder which tickle the imagination but bring it back down to reality before you forget what you were reading. There is also just enough tension and introspection between the main characters Emma and James to make them likable.

The essential gist is that the sun is slowly dimming which is causing havoc on Earth. The main characters, and a supporting cast, have to figure out why. Going any further than that would spoil the rest of the story from about the middle of the first book onward. There are some good twists in the story which line up for a pretty good ending. The book is lite on subplots so the main story is easy to follow. I would have liked to have some additional POVs beyond just Emma and James though both characters were separated enough to generate good variety in the plot.

My only two criticisms are specific to James’s thought process and a chunk of the last book. I found James’s ability to answer all the questions in the first book to be a little too convenient. However, this is addressed in the other two books to some extent. This makes James more human and relatable. This is also poses an interesting question in the series about certain decisions made by characters unseen. As for the “chunk of the last book”, let’s just say that most of the questions were answered. And they were answered well. But I think the story could have gotten there in half the amount of words.

That being said, the ending left me feeling good. It also really drives home the importance of not losing out human connections with one another. I recommend this book if you like Sci-Fi action/adventure novels that have a good blend of action and cerebral questions that make your head explode.

4.5/5 stars.

And now, a haiku. This might contain spoilers so read at your own risk!

Sun slowly fading
Earth becoming iceball
Just one of many